Texas Railroad History - Tower 2 - San Antonio

Crossing of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway and the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway

Tower 2 was located at the crossing of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway and the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway in south San Antonio. It was authorized for operation by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) as a 10-function/10-lever mechanical interlocker on October 9, 1902. At the time, both railroads were owned by Southern Pacific (SP) but operated separately. A year later, SP was forced to divest its ownership of the SA&AP due to a court ruling where SP's purchase of the SA&AP (eleven years earlier!) was found to be unauthorized and anti-competitive. The reason for this lawsuit -- and why the State of Texas waited a decade to bring it -- is part of the interesting history of the SA&AP.

The SA&AP had been chartered in 1884 by Uriah Lott to build from San Antonio to Corpus Christi. It soon expanded into other areas of south and central Texas, reaching Houston in 1888 and Waco in 1891. In 1886, Lott hired as Traffic Manager a young man from Limestone County, Texas. Age 27, Benjamin Franklin Yoakum had gotten his start in railroads working on a track gang for the International & Great Northern. He had moved up rapidly to become a land promoter for Texas rail lines owned by Jay Gould before moving to the SA&AP. Within a year, he had helped Lott arrange for a town site to be laid out along SA&AP tracks to become the site for SA&APs yards. Lott was so enamored with Yoakum, he named the town for him (Yoakum, Texas.) When SA&AP went into bankruptcy in 1890, Yoakum was named by the court as one of the receivers. When the receivership ended in 1892, Yoakum became an executive for Santa Fe, leaving the newly restructured SA&AP to be acquired by SP later that same year.

Yoakum stayed a few years with Santa Fe and continued his rise in railroad management. By 1903, he had become the chief executive of the St. Louis San Francisco (Frisco) Railway while also serving on the boards of other major railroads, including as Chairman of Rock Island. To increase Frisco and Rock Island traffic, Yoakum wanted to build tracks to the Rio Grande Valley to tap its booming agricultural production which he would then ship north through his various rail properties. The Valley only had rail service to Port Isabel on the coast near Brownsville; there was no rail connection to the north. Yoakum was rightfully concerned that SP would reach the Valley before he did since SA&AP already had tracks as far south as the town of Alice, a little over 100 miles from the Valley. Yoakum's nearest tracks were in Dallas!

Perhaps Yoakum had something up his sleeve? In 1903, eleven years after the SA&AP had been acquired by SP, the State of Texas sued SP to demand divestiture of the SA&AP. The State claimed the acquisition was in violation of Texas laws against anti-competitive railroad ownership. Was this merely good fortune for B F Yoakum, or did his personal relationships with RCT commissioners play a role? When the State won the lawsuit, the court ordered SP to divest the SA&AP and guarantee the bonds that had been issued during SP ownership. This created financial uncertainty for the newly independent SA≈ selling new bonds to finance construction to the Rio Grande Valley would be difficult. SA&AP did build 36 miles south from Alice to Falfurrias in 1904, but they went no farther. Meanwhile, Yoakum's newly chartered St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico (SLB&M) Railway started construction at Robstown where materials could be shipped from the port of Corpus Christi via the Texas Mexican Railway. From there he built south to Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley (reached in 1904) and north to Algoa (reached in 1906). At Algoa, a Santa Fe connection into Houston was negotiated, effectively giving Yoakum control of the lucrative Rio Grande Valley agricultural traffic. But Yoakum still had a big problem: when this traffic reached Houston, he had no connecting railroad on which to send it out. Even worse for Yoakum, SP's Houston & Texas Central rail line to Dallas would likely capture the northbound traffic. So...in 1906, Yoakum began the next phase of his plan to thwart SP...but that's a Tower 63 story!

In 1917, the Missouri Kansas Texas Railway funded a new railroad, the San Antonio, Belt and Terminal (SAB&T) Railway, to provide switching services in San Antonio including the vicinity of Tower 2. Documentation obtained from SP by Carl Codney shows that a Statement Showing Levers, Functions and Division of Expense at Interlocking Plant for Tower 2 (see below) was issued on September 1, 1917 to incorporate the SAB&T's new tracks near Tower 2. The expense allocation was 53% to GH&SA, 21% to SA&AP, and 26% to SAB&T, and there is no indication that this ever changed after 1917. The document also confirms the tower was operated and maintained by GH&SA.

Carl Codney Collection Documents

Above: This image is the upper portion of the final tower expense allocation for Tower 2 showing the lever and function definitions. Although it is dated September 1, 1917, it was amended by typewriter as late as January 26, 1920, shortly after it was revised to add signals pertaining to the activation of the nearby "River Crossing Interlocker", Tower 112, which began operation on December 30, 1919. A final notation by hand shows that Tower 2 was "placed out of service" on September 24, 1925; this was about six months after SP re-acquired the SA&AP. The remaining controls were relocated to Tower 112 at that time. Below: The original Division of Expense document for Tower 2, dated October 9, 1902 (its RCT authorization date), shows amendments by hand many times over the years before it was ultimately replaced by the 1917 document above. It shows the original expense sharing was 54.5% GH&SA, 45.5% SA&SP, and that SA&AP operated the tower while GH&SA maintained it. A typewritten notation was made for changes to SA&AP distant signals on April 30, 1907. Notations by hand explain that the lever distribution was revised on June 5, 1917 "account addition of levers to handle GH&SA double track", and revised again on June 9, 1918 "account addition of levers to handle crossing of SAB&T Ry." Apparently the above document was issued on September 1, 1917 and both documents were maintained until entry of the June 6, 1918 changes for the SAB&T.

In the Transportation Act of 1920, Congress directed the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to promote and plan consolidation of U.S. railroads into a limited number of "systems". The ICC responded by hiring economist William Z. Ripley to develop a plan. The so-called "Ripley Plan" proposed that SP head one of these systems, and that the SA&AP become part of it. On December 6, 1924, SP filed an application with the ICC for authorization to obtain control of the SA&AP. The State of Texas opposed the move, but was overruled by the ICC, which granted SP's application. In March, 1925, the SA&AP was re-acquired by SP and leased to the GH&SA. As noted above, Tower 2 was then closed in September. SP eventually completed construction of the SA&AP line from Falfurrias to the Valley, reaching McAllen in 1927. This ended SLB&M's two-decade control of Valley traffic. A. Tyrrell Kott adds..."As for Tower 2, it was identical to Tower 3 in Flatonia. Both were built by the San Antonio & Aransas Pass at the same time. I have a poor photo of it somewhere. It was incorporated into Tower 112 when the SA&AP was absorbed into the T&NO. The structure of Tower 2 was removed in the late 1920's when the crossing was removed. The old SA&AP depot at the corner of S. Flores and S. Alamo was not removed until 1939."

Above: This annotated index map to the 1904 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of San Antonio shows the crossing of the SP and SA&AP railroads in south San Antonio, site of Tower 2. Further west, the location of Tower 105 is also noted. More detailed Sanborn maps from 1912 show that the SA&AP had a yard and roundhouse immediately south of this junction. The crossing was revised significantly in the late 1920s by removal of the SA&AP track that crossed the SP. In its place, a curved connection from the SA&AP yard to the SP main line was built, a track that remains in place today, visible in the lower left quadrant of the satellite image below. Removing the crossing would have severed the northern extension of the SA&AP track into downtown and beyond, but a new connection to these tracks had been built by the SAB&T from the SP main at Tower 112.

Above: This annotated 1926 track chart from the T&NO Archives shows the location of Tower 2, apparently still standing but no longer in service. The MKT/GH&SA crossing over the San Antonio River was controlled by Tower 112 off the diagram to the right. Below: This Google Earth satellite map shows the area formerly occupied by Tower 2. The long diagonal line of railcars is on the SAB&T right of way. The smaller strand of railcars in the upper left quadrant of the photo running almost due north/south is probably on the original SAAP right of way. This ROW connected with the curved track in the lower quadrant. Tower 2 was located where this ROW crossed the east/west SP main line which is visible across and just below the center of the photo.

Towers 105, 109 and 112 were located in south San Antonio near Tower 2. Tower 121, was also located in San Antonio, on the northeast side of town.

Revised: 2/1/2019 JGK  Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.